Would Dr. King be pleased today?

Where were you on April 4, 1968?

I was a sophomore at East High School, and I, like the rest of the world, would look on in horror at this news announcement: Shortly after 6 p.m., at a Memphis, Tenn., hotel, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot. He was pronounced dead about an hour later at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Memphis.

Despite cries from others in the civil-rights movement for calm and nonviolence, King’s death sparked riots throughout this country.

I remember several white East High students, mostly males, being beaten and harassed by several black students — an irrational reaction to an irrational moment in history.

The King assassination was 43 years ago.

I wonder if King would be pleased with how life in America in general, and the black community specifically, has progressed.

At the time of his death, the U.S. was embroiled in the Vietnam War. Today, the U.S. is embroiled in two wars — and hopefully not a third.

King was in Memphis to support that city’s black public-sanitation workers, who went on strike for better pay, better treatment and more work.

According to statistics culled from the Internet, the unemployment rate for black adults in 1968 was at 8.8 percent, with a rate for black youths at between 40 percent and 45 percent.

Today, the unemployment rate among black adults is 15.8 percent, with the same high unemployment rate of 44 percent for African-American youths.

King would be even more appalled to find that one in every four black people live in poverty, and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, blacks account for nearly half of Americans living with the HIV virus that causes AIDS.

I think King would be discouraged that there still are more black men in prison than in college, and that young, unwed African-American girls are getting pregnant at alarming rates.

Here is an equally disturbing U.S. Census Bureau stat: There are 1.3 million black grandparents who lived with their own grandchildren younger than 18. Of this number, 50 percent also were responsible for their care.

Those are some of the negatives, but King would certainly have enjoyed seeing a man of color in the White House.

He also would be encouraged that voting rates are up in African-American communities, and that 1.5 million blacks 25 and older have advanced college degrees (master’s, doctorates, medical or law).

I think King would be frustrated in the unusual first names given to African-American children in the 21st century.

I think he would be proud of the accomplishments of blacks in the entertainment and sports industries but be equally disappointed there aren’t more black doctors, teachers and lawyers. I certainly think he would be alarmed that black men are underrepresented in the aforementioned fields, especially public-school teachers.

When I taught English at the former Lincoln Middle School in Youngstown in 1975-76, I was among the few black male teachers in the school. When I was a student in the Youngstown schools, I could count on one hand the number of black male teachers I had.

Despite the major achievements by African-Americans from 1968 to now, I still think King would remain frustrated that there is still so much more to be done to provide a level playing field for black and poor people in this country.

His dream for an American society, essentially, was for equal opportunity for all people and that no one would be denied that opportunity based on race.

I think we can agree that although we draw closer to that goal, it has not been attained and, because of the dynamics and history of race in this nation, may never be.

I believe King would not be content to let his dream for America fade away, however. If he lived today — he would have been 82 this year — I believe he still would preach that all people should be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

One local event dedicated to King’s memory is Monday at the Mahoning County Courthouse rotunda in downtown Youngstown.

U.S. District Court Judge Benita Y. Pearson will be the keynote speaker at a memorial service from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. The program is sponsored by the Baptist Pastors’ Council of Youngstown.

Ernie Brown Jr., a regional editor at The Vindicator, writes a monthly column. Contact him at ebrown@vindy.com

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